Council also voted to give the city administrator authority to enter into month-to-month leases of city property and to waive food and beverage tax and lodging tax penalties

The Ashland City Council has decided to test whether more frequent bus service will boost flagging mass transit use.

However, to pay for buses coming to bus stops about every 15 minutes instead of every half hour, the fare to ride a bus will go up from 50 cents per trip to $1.

On Tuesday night, a City Council majority voted to spend $187,588 to continue subsidizing Rogue Valley Transportation District bus service within Ashland. Councilors decided to shift the subsidy toward more frequent bus service while lowering the amount the city contributes to reduce fares in town.

At $1 per trip, people traveling in Ashland will still spend less than the $2 people spend for a bus trip elsewhere in the valley.

To soften the effect of the fare increase, the city will distribute $10,000 worth of free bus passes to low income students and adults. Those will be given out through Ashland High School, the Ashland Senior Center and the Ashland Finance Department.

The fare increase will go into effect on September 7, when buses will also start coming more frequently.

In 2006, bus use shot up to 150,000 trips per year when rides were free in Ashland and buses came every 15 minutes.

But after RVTD asked for a big increase in the amount the city paid to subsidize service, the City Council decided fares would have to be 50 cents per trip and buses would come only every half hour.

Bus rides plummeted to just above 40,000 trips, and declined to under 40,000 in the past year, according to RVTD.

Meanwhile, bus use in other parts of the Rogue Valley grew 16 percent and many cities in the nation saw bus ridership rise 10 percent to 20 percent, according to RVTD officials.

That led RVTD officials to suspect that Ashlanders care more about bus frequency than low bus fare.

Although Councilor David Chapman voted with the majority to shift the city subsidy to increase bus frequency and lower the amount the city contributes to buy down bus fares, he said he's curious to see what bus ridership numbers will reveal about the changes in the next few years.

He said he's distressed about the mass transit situation in Ashland, pointing to how the city's own experience and the experience of other cities has shown that free bus trips can dramatically boost mass transit use.

“We seem to lose ground every year instead of gain it,” he said.
However, the city would have to spend $268,651 to have free bus service, and even then, buses would come only every half-hour. That amount is $81,063 more than the City Council agreed to spend to subsidize bus service.

Councilor Eric Navickas said subsidizing bus service is important, not just because of the environmental benefits, but because mass transit eases traffic congestion and reduces wear and tear on roads.

Councilor Kate Jackson was the only council member to vote against spending money to subsidize bus service. She said in tight budget times, subsidizing bus service is not a top priority.

In other business Tuesday night, the council:

• voted to increase rental fees for the Ashland Community Center, Pioneer Hall and The Grove so that the city recovers 75 percent of the cost of managing those city-owned buildings;

• voted to approve a resolution expressing the council's support for a bill in the Oregon Legislature that would allow voters to rank candidates when voting;

• gave initial approval for an ordinance requiring the Historic Commission and Planning Commission to review proposals to install public art on historic buildings;

• gave the city administrator authority to enter into month-to-month leases of city property and to waive food and beverage tax and lodging tax penalties;

• discussed a proposal to allow businesses to use sidewalks to display their wares, and agreed to continue looking at the issue on June 16.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or